The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
The Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, briefed the Security Council this morning on Syria. He said that people there are suffering a cold hard winter, with freezing temperatures, snowfall and heavy rain resulting in flooding which is destroying shelters and forcing tens of thousands more people to move. Millions of civilians are living under tents or tarpaulins or in damaged buildings with no power or heating, and there are severe shortages of all the basics, he added, from blankets to baby milk to bandages.
Mr. Lowcock said the United Nations has raised $81 million, which has allowed us to assist 1.2 million people thus far. Continued support is critical to ensuring that all those in need can be reached, the Emergency Relief Coordinator told Council members. Mr. Lowcock expressed his concern for the roughly 42,000 people who remain stranded in Rukban along the Syria-Jordan border. Conditions in the informal settlements have continued to deteriorate since the last humanitarian convoy to the area, which took place at the beginning of November last year. He said that eight infants have reportedly died since last month since the cold is making the situation even worse. Turning to the north‑east of the country, he voiced concern about the humanitarian impact of ongoing military operations in Deir ez-Zor, where thousands have been displaced and an unknown number of people remain trapped under Da’esh control. Continuing and intense airstrikes and ground fighting have caused scores of civilian casualties and damaged critical infrastructure.
And earlier, before the Syria meeting, the Security Council members renewed the mandate of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) for a further six months. The Council welcomed the opening of two new crossings in November 2018 as an important contribution in trust-building.
The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, has wrapped up a 12-day visit to Myanmar. She visited the capital, Naypyitaw, where she met Government ministers and the Chairperson of the Independent Commission of Enquiry. In Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, the Special Envoy focused on the need for freedom of movement, which she stressed is key for all people and their access to livelihoods, as well rebuilding trust. While recognizing that the current security situation in northern Rakhine made humanitarian access and the return of refugees difficult, she still underlined the importance of allowing aid agencies to help civilians in the area. She also expressed the hope that Myanmar and Bangladesh can further strengthen their cooperation regarding the repatriation of refugees, and she will travel to Dhaka next month. Also wrapping up a visit to Myanmar is United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Executive Director Henrietta Fore, who met Government officials in Naypyitaw and children and families in Rakhine State during a three-day visit. More information is on the Internet if you’re interested in her visit.
And speaking of visits, the Head of the Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Department, Rosemary DiCarlo, is in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, where she held discussions with President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed Farmajo and the Prime Minister, Hassan Ali Khaire. The President, Prime Minister and the Under‑Secretary‑General discussed practical measures for the Federal Government of Somalia and the UN to work closely together for the benefit of all Somali people, as well as to support Somalia’s state building and peacebuilding priorities. More information is available on the Mission’s website.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
And speaking of missions, the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) reports that hundreds of people, including women and children, were apparently killed during clashes between Batende and Banunu communities in Yumbi Territory, in the north-west of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Those clashes, we think, took place between 16 and 18 December last year. According to a preliminary report by the Joint Human Rights Office, following the deployment of an investigative team, at least 535 civilians were killed in four attacks and 111 others wounded. The team identified a total of 59 burial sites in two of the attacked towns, but do not rule out more sites. Hundreds of properties were looted and destroyed in the attacks. MONUSCO reports that the security situation there is currently relatively calm, with national security forces having been deployed to the area. The UN and its humanitarian partners dispatched emergency help — medicine, food, water tablets and malaria kits — to further help the communities. And also on the Democratic of the Republic of the Congo, UNICEF said that, alongside the Government and partners, the agency is scaling up its response to the Ebola outbreak in the eastern part of country, which is now the second largest outbreak in history after the one in West Africa in 2014 [to] 2016.
And our humanitarian colleagues say that some 30,000 people have fled to Cameroon from Nigeria’s north-east town of Rann, with thousands of others seeking refuge in the areas of Ngala and Maiduguri following repeated attacks by armed groups. Between 60 and 100 civilians were killed in the latest attack earlier this week. In Nigeria, humanitarian partners have activated emergency response mechanisms and are conducting assessments to respond to the needs in Ngala. Rann has been inaccessible to humanitarians since the previous attacks in mid-January. Safety concerns are continuing to rise for thousands of civilians who are either trapped in the town or have fled. Meanwhile, in neighbouring Cameroon, the World Food Programme (WFP) is planning a general food distribution today for 13,500 new arrivals, while the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will provide shelter and other support in the coming days. NGO humanitarian partners are assisting through water trucking and creating water wells.
**State of Palestine
Jamie McGoldrick, the Humanitarian Coordinator in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, along with colleagues from UNICEF and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), issued a press release today expressing the UN’s concern at the high number of reported incidents of interference in or nearby schools in the West Bank since the beginning of the school year. These incidents, UN officials say, are impacting children’s safe access to [education].
And following a sea tragedy that occurred yesterday off Djibouti’s Red Sea coast, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reports that a total of 16 survivors have been recovered, as well as the remains of 43 victims. One hundred and thirty people were on board two boats that capsized on Tuesday off Godoria, in the north-east part of Djibouti. IOM staff have been helping survivors of the tragedy and lending support to Djibouti authorities as they continue to patrol the shoreline in search of other survivors.
Today, my guest will be UNHCR’s Head of Global Communications desk in New York, Joung-ah Ghedini-Williams Head, and she will talk to you about a new report that UNHCR is launching today. Tomorrow, my guest will be Miguel Ángel Moratinos, the new head of the UN Alliance of Civilizations.
And as of today, 28 Member States have paid their regular budget dues in full. Two more were added today. Can anybody guess who they were? Yes, from one smart aleck to another. They were Malaysia and Cuba, and we thank them both. Yes, go ahead.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Steph, can you confirm that the Secretary‑General has written to Venezuela's Juan Guaidó, explaining to him that the UN will not be able to expand humanitarian operations in the country without the consent of the Government?
Spokesman: No, I have nothing to confirm at this time, but these are basic principles, that the UN operates just about everywhere under the rule of consent with governments. I think the Secretary‑General has expressed his concern about the humanitarian situation in Venezuela and is seeing how we can ramp up our operations there.
Question: So, you cannot confirm whether a letter has been sent…?
Spokesman: I'm not confirming at this point. Yes, ma'am?
Question: Stéphane, in which capacity does the Secretary‑General will be able to provide help on dialogues or any negotiations on the statement issued after his meeting with the CARICOM [Caribbean Community] members? He was clear that he's willing to do that process. How you will foresee that? Would it had to be requested by the Nicolas Maduro…?
Spokesman: It's important for any exercise of the Secretary‑General's good offices that all the parties involved agree to having him, whoever occupies the post of Secretary‑General, provide those good offices. Yes, Nabil?
Question: Stéphane, the shooting incident on the de‑mining team in Hodeidah, do you have details? And can you tell us, is this incident going to stop the team's work, or do they have new plans or what's…?
Spokesman: No, I'll give you the information that I was given, that, yesterday, under the supervision of the Redeployment [Coordination] Committee, the UN Mission in support of the Hodeidah Agreement deployed a Liaison Coordination Team to monitor ceasefire compliance in the areas between K‑16 and K‑13 — kilometre 16 and kilometre 13 — along the Hodeidah‑Sana’a Road. The objective of the operation included monitoring the completion of de‑mining activities by the parties to grant access to the Red Sea Mills, where key humanitarian supplies are stored. The Liaison Coordination Team reported hearing sporadic fire in the areas, but were unable to identify the source or the target. The team witnessed one casualty brought to kilometre 16, but it was not able to determine the cause of the injuries. Although the intended de‑mining did not take place, allegedly due to the sporadic shooting, the access of the team to kilometre 16, which is the furthest point along this route reached by the Mission so far, is a step forward. At the conclusion of the operation yesterday, the UN team returned safely to the Mission headquarters. So, just to be clear, the de‑mining operation itself is not being conducted by the UN. The de‑mining is the responsibility of the parties. The UN Mission in support of the Hodeidah Agreement will continue to do its work, obviously, in as best way possible in what are, obviously, extremely trying circumstances. Maria?
Question: Thank you, Stéphane. Special Representative of the OSCE [Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe] Martin Sajdik said there was a certain new plan for settlement in Ukraine instead of Minsk Agreement, and that includes sending United Nations police mission to Donbass. So, can you confirm such plans of sending United Nations mission and, in general, what Secretary‑General thinks about this new plan?
Spokesman: Sure, we've seen… the information that we've seen on this new plan is really in press reports at this point. So, there's really nothing more for me to say. I will say, as a matter of principle, that we strongly support the lead of the Normandy Four, the Trilateral Contact Group and, of course, the OSCE on the Ukrainian file. Yes, and then…
Question: Thank you, Steph. In Cameroon, Nigerians are fleeing to Cameroon, but Cameroonians are also fleeing to Nigeria. Is the UN taking care of the… delivering aid to both groups or…? I guess they're not…
Spokesman: Yes, we're doing what we can to… we're doing what we can to all the civilians who are in need. Yep?
Question: And secondly, on the West Bank, who damaged the schools?
Spokesman: I would refer you to the press release, which has a lot of granular details. Yes, ma'am?
Question: A follow‑up question on the Hodeidah. Can you… so, just to clarify, so you are not able to say who… what is the source of this shooting? And also… okay. Yeah. That's it. So, you're not able to clarify…?
Spokesman: No, exactly. I mean, I think, as we've said in the past, they are operating in an area where sporadic gunfire is not unheard of. They were not… their mission is not really to try to… they were not… given what they saw and where they were, they were not able to determine the source of the fire. The fact that the team was able to reach kilometre 16, which is really the furthest point they've been able to reach, I think, in itself is a… is a positive thing.
Question: On a different subject, do you have any updates on the humanitarian situation in Gaza?
Spokesman: No, but we can ask our OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] colleagues to come. Okay? Great. Yeah, go ahead.
Question: Yeah, Dymitro from Ukrinform, Ukraine News Agency. Just to follow‑up [inaudible] on OSCE plan, alternative plan, what you said, does it mean that they have not been contacting the Secretary‑General and you have not been… they didn't… they didn't reach out to the UN?
Spokesman: I mean, we've seen press reports of somebody proposing this plan. I'm not aware of any official communications from the OSCE to the United Nations laying out the details of the plan. So, obviously, before commenting on it, we would want to see a bit more details. Yes, Evelyn?
Question: On Syria, does the UN have enough goods to deliver to all these people in need? And are the humanitarian goods used as a weapon of war?
Spokesman: I think we've… we always need more. The issue is not so much what we have. The issue in Syria and throughout this conflict has remained access. Great. I will ask our guests from UNHCR to come up, and I would ask you to stay to hear from her.